Thursday, February 28, 2013

Henderson lawsuit links developer Milam, ex-BLM chief Abbey

Former Bureau of Land Management head Bob Abbey's consulting firm has been named as a defendant in the city of Henderson's lawsuit over allegations of fraud by embattled developer Chris Milam. The firm, Abbey, Stubbs & Ford, of Henderson, was listed among four new defendants in court papers filed Friday by lawyers representing the city. Abbey and longtime friend and fellow ex-BLM official Mike Ford are partners in the firm. Ford is already a defendant in the Milam case. In naming Abbey, Stubbs & Ford as a defendant, the city for the first time directly links Milam to Abbey, who was BLM director when Ford helped Milam buy 480 acres of federal land in Henderson at a bargain price. Ford and Abbey were partners before Abbey was tapped by the Obama administration to run the BLM in 2010. He retired from the agency in May 2012 and rejoined the firm on Aug. 1. The firm stands to gain a $528,000 "success fee" when the land deal culminates. "It has become apparent that the scope of the Defendants' plot is broader than originally believed," the court papers said. Henderson endorsed Milam's bid for the land, helping him buy it for a below-market price of $10.56 million - or $22,000 an acre - because he promised to build a professional sports complex there. In court papers, the city accuses Milam of planning all along to flip the land for commercial and residential development. In addition to Henderson's lawsuit, the land deal is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Interior's inspector general. Federal officials have declined to characterize the scope of that investigation. The recent court filings also allege the modified competitive bidding procedure, which allowed Milam to match any other bid submitted, "allowed (the developer) to obtain the land at a significant discount." The city's new court papers cited a June 7 email from Ford to Milam that reads, "We were extraordinarily fortunate to have been able to obtain the land at $.50/ft, or $22K/acre. Call it a mixture of good luck and good work by your friendly BLM consultant. "As you have learned, current land values in the surrounding area (south valley and Henderson) are generally 2 to 5 times higher, and as much as $100K-$125k per acre in nearby areas. We were pleased to get through the BLM process without any substantive challenge." John Ritter, the master plan developer of the Inspirada development adjoining the BLM site, described Ford's email as a "smoking gun" because "it shows Ford's opinion that they were getting the land for far less than fair market value."...more

No comments: